Rooting for the Blues
Ascension Collegiate principal Neil Kearley can be considered a unique hockey fan in Newfoundland and Labrador. In a province where allegiances tend to side with the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, or some other original six NHL franchise, Kearley roots for the St. Louis Blues. His fandom can be traced back to a special encounter with a former Blues player.
Ascension Collegiate principal Neil Kearley is used to the strange looks or curious glances come the fall when hockey season gets started again.
In a province where hockey fans are more likely to cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens, Kearley pulls for a team you wouldn’t expect — the St. Louis Blues.
“Do I get puzzled looks? Oh, all the time,” Kearley said in conversation with The Compass. “I’ve heard that since I was a fan of the Blues. What the hell are you a fan of the Blues for?
“A lot of times I make the connection to Gino Cavallini. I have one of his sticks over at my house actually.”
Yes, Gino Cavallini. The veteran of 593 National Hockey League games — 454 of them with the Blues — led the Bay Roberts resident to cheer a team on the outskirts of Canada’s hockey periphery.
Not Brett Hull, Adam Oates or Doug Gilmour. They rank amongst his favourites. Along with Gary Younger, Bernie Federko and Jon Davidson.
But, they didn’t make him a diehard fan. So, why not? To find the answer to that question you have to start with the advent of free agency.
“It wasn’t like when I was a Bruins fan as a kid in the 70s. I know who was on that team year-in and year-out,” said Kearley. “A new player would shift or you’d trade a player, but you knew who was on the Boston Bruins. That started to fade away in the late 80s with free agency.
“You start drifting away from the team.”
His allegiances were shifting during a road trip to Boston with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in the early 1990s. Kearley was at the Boston Garden March 7, 1991 where the Bruins were playing the Blues.
Gino and his brother Paul Cavallini were suiting up for St. Louis and they were related to a friend of the future principal through marriage.
“I like the blues music and I had always like the Blues team,” said Kearley. “There was a player named Gary Younger, the ironman of the NHL at the time … they were a struggling team but I remember liking the logo and they had the ironman.”
After the Blues game, Gino took Kearley and his friend out on the town. It was his 400th NHL game and he’d qualified for his pension.
“And, then I made a connection to the team. Back in the day, there weren’t a lot of connections in Newfoundland where you say, ‘I know so and so.’ Somebody you have spent an afternoon or a couple of days on the weekend interacting with. There was this human connection. I said, ‘That’s it, I’m a St. Louis Blues fan.’”
A classic uniform
Another aspect of the Blues makeup that drew Kearley to the team were their uniforms. Known as one of the classier looks in hockey, the St. Louis look incorporates a smooth mix of gold, white and blue.
From 1995-1998, the team added in a splash of red. It didn’t sit well with Kearley.
“I love the Blues uniform and I love what they did with them,” he said. “Of course, when you were cheering for them in the mid-90s and they threw that red stripe or slash in there, that sucked.
“Their uniform now is very close to what it was when I was growing up.”
Ascension Collegiate principal Neil Kearley wears his St. Louis Blues jersey proudly. It’s the No. 22 of David Backes.